Back to Booth

20 11 2010

Yep, I get suckered in every now and then.  I run across a new release in the book store and/or hear the author of that book on C-Span and, despite the fact that the book will be available used or as a remainder in one of the many used book stores I frequent within 6 months, I lay out the cash.  More often than not, this happens in the case of a book on Lincoln.  And also more often than not, the book goes unread.  But every once in a while I pick one up that I know I’ll read, and these are usually in that peculiar subset of the Assassination.

The other day I bought My Thoughts Be Bloody, touted as The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth that Led to an American Tragedy.  I heard the author, Nora Titone, on C-Span: she does one of those presentations where you’re pretty sure every word has been scripted out (in contrast to my own presentations, where with the exception of quotations I speak off a very general outline).  There have been at least two other books published over the past 18 years that specifically examine the relationship between the Booth brothers, and Michael Kauffman’s American Brutus also spends some time on it.  Regardless, Titone’s is the story of how Wilkes was affected by the very strained relationship he had with his older, more talented, more respected, and more powerful brother Edwin.  I’ll read this once I finish the difficult to finish West Pointers and the Civil War (the title is misleading and it lacks focus and structure, but there’s a lot of good stuff in it).

Titone’s book has a shiny silver color, not unlike that of another new Lincoln book, Bloody Crimes by James Swanson.  This combines the stories of Lincoln’s funeral procession back to Springfield with the pursuit and capture of Jefferson Davis.  Swanson appears to be taking a page from Stephen Ambrose’s playbook by blending a story he has already written (the funeral train was a big part of Swanson’s previous work, Manhunt – which also had a shiny silver cover) with another story that just happened to be going on at the same time.  I guess that’s a good gig if you can get it.  I hope that the covers are the only similarity between Titone’s book and Swanson’s – I read Manhunt and, while it’s very well written, there’s not much there there.  Know what I mean?



3 responses

20 11 2010
Robert Redd

Hi Harry, I received this as a review copy not too long ago and recently finished it but haven’t posted a review yet. I haven’t read the others you pointed out so I can’t compare them. Overall it’s pretty straight forward…Edwin was the more favored child and ultimately the more talented actor but who is it America remembers. There’s more to it of course with Booth family fortunes earned and lost being a big part. Junius and Edwin were the money winners and the whole family tended to lean on them. The book reads pretty well and while it doesn’t really seem to break any new ground I felt it was worth the time overall. I haven’t caught the C-Span program you referenced but I’ll watch for it.


20 11 2010
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Robert. So in one respect it IS like Swanson, in that no new ground is covered. However, unlike in the case of “Manhunt” I haven’t read much about the Wilkes/Edwin dynamic, so I shouldn’t feel too disappointed if the writing holds up.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t the pictures of a scowling Edwin remind you of Buster Keaton?


22 11 2010
Susan Evelyn McDowell Cole

The C-Span program was awesome and inspired me to read a biography on General George Thomas. Patterson’s role is mentioned in Thomas’s biography but the author is more sympathetic to Patterson’s failure to control the movement of Confederate troops. The author mentions that Jeffferson Davis was Secretary of War prior to the Civil War and managed to secret away arms, munitions and even warships for use by the Confederacy against the Union.

Jefferson Davis apparently began planning his moves in 1845 when Texas seceded from Mexico and applied for admission as a state to the United States. When the Civil War began, Texas then seceded from the United States to join the Confederates. Jefferson Davis was a piece of work. He seemed to have the whole thing planned out.

Susan Evelyn McDowell Cole


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